During our media training courses for lawyers, we usually start by looking at what makes a media story and what it is that interests journalists when they’re carrying out interviews.

We’ll ask the participants to think about new stories they’ve read, heard or seen that day and analyse them to identify the raw ingredients of a media story. Inevitably the question that is asked is wise so much bad news? Why do journalists love trouble, scandal and things going wrong?

It’s a good question and the simple answer is that we focus on these issues because we know that this will engage our audiences and get a reaction from them. However, it’s worth exploring this question of bad news and looking at how lawyers can turn journalists love of trouble to their advantage when they are doing media interviews.

There are essentially three reasons why bad news sells in the media. First, it’s mainly because it’s unusual. Most of the time, things work satisfactorily in life. Planes and trains carry people safely. People get proper treatment in their local hospitals and, however much they might annoy us, we manage to get on with our family and friends without killing them.

So, it’s the unusual element of troublesome events that particularly appeals to journalists.

The second reason why trouble cells is psychological. Risks, threats and fear fire up the amygdala. This is based deep In our reptile brain and comes into operation as part of the fight or flight mechanism. It’s what warned us when we were out hunting animals of any danger and ensured that we reacted quickly. Positive stimuli create a response in the brain commonly known as “approach/attract.”

We need to respond to this type of event, but given that it’s usually about nutrition or procreation, it’s nice but not urgent. However, if something is about to attack and even kill us, we have to react quickly, which is why threats and danger provoke a stronger, more immediate reaction in the brain. Hence the modern media’s obsession with threats and dangers.

Think about how often you see words such as “fear,” “fury,” “row,” “scare,” “threat”, and “risk” in a headline. Whether it’s conventional or social media, this kind of content grabs our attention and encourages us to read on.

The third reason why things going wrong appeals to journalists is that we genuinely want to draw attention to the system’s dangers, injustices, and failures. By shining a light on them, we believe that there’s a good chance they might be addressed and remedied by relevant authorities. Improvements and reforms have often come about because of media exposure.

Whether it’s historic child abuse, dangerous cladding on buildings or financial scandals, journalists like the idea that this kind of reporting (especially if they’ve broken the story) can ultimately create a better world.

So, where does this leave lawyers doing media interviews?

Well, by flagging up a risk, a threat or a danger to their clients and then offering a solution to it, lawyers can not only provide something that the journalist will take away and use, but they will also help to promote their own services in a kind of subtle way that works well with the media.

We don’t like a hard sell, but we do want to speak to people who clearly have their ears to the ground and can offer useful, practical advice to our audiences.

So, if you’re a lawyer doing a media interview, think “problem – solution”. In other words, when you’re talking to the journalist, identify a new threat or risk to your audience and then provide a solution for it. You don’t have to go into too much detail here, by the way. There’s only time with the media to simply give the top line on an issue and you really only want to give a taster so that your audience will be inspired to get in touch to find out more.

If you’d like to put this and any other media interview skills into practice, then find out more about our media interview training for lawyers.

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